By Don Simpson | October 16, 2014
Director: Peter Sattler
Writer: Peter Sattler
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi, Lane Garrison, J.J. Soria, John Carroll Lynch, Cory Michael Smith, Ser’Darius Blain, Tara Holt, Marco Khan, Julia Duffy, Kyle Bornheimer, Yousuf Azami
It is pretty sad when the best performance in a film comes in the form of Kristen Stewart’s cold, vacant stare. Amy Cole, a naive Army recruit whose fateful first detail brings her to Guantanamo Bay, presumably provides Stewart with a chance to showcase her dramatic talent, yet the resulting performance is that of an unearthly, unemotional enigma. This is at least partially because Peter Sattler’s film opts to revel in ambiguity, presenting the audience with very little information about the characters in an earnest attempt for us to begin with a blank slate. This seems especially significant to Sattler because he strives to present both sides of the bars with equal compassion. While this strategy may work well enough with his presentation of the prisoners — ahem, detainees — because we know nothing about their level of innocence or guilt, neglecting to provide us with any worthwhile background concerning Amy’s personal history or motivation for joining the military severely limits our capacity to connect with her character.
Barely grazing upon the dehumanizing conditions inside of Gitmo and the inherent sexism in the military, it is important to note that Camp X-Ray does not function as a critique of the military. Rather, Sattler’s film is a gently contemplative, post-9/11 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet that is utterly defused of any romance. This painstakingly slow and quiet observation of two people who develop a star-crossed friendship in an inhumane environment (one that utilizes J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a psychological torture tactic) deserves some credit for going against the grain of Hollywood. Unfortunately, Camp X-Ray falls prey to the stereotypical critique of “slow cinema”: it is boring and tedious.